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British PM Brown Isolated as European, African Leaders Plan Lisbon Summit


Tensions between Britain and Zimbabwe remain high before next month's Europe-Africa summit in Lisbon, Portugal. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insists he will not attend if Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe shows up as planned. But, as Tendai Maphosa reports from London, Mr. Brown is not getting support for his boycott threat from other European or African leaders.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he will not sit at the table with a man widely accused of human rights abuses, of trampling on democracy and of having destroyed his country through economic mismanagement. Speaking to reporters in London this week, Mr. Brown confirmed his intention to boycott.

"We cannot sit down with at the same table as President Mugabe," he said. "We do not believe that from the record we have seen over these last few years that there is anything to be gained from a dialogue between Britain and Zimbabwe."

President Mugabe's government has dismissed such threats and accusations as interference by the country's former colonizer. Mr. Mugabe says he will be at the Lisbon summit.

The Zimbabwean leader has come under increasing criticism from Western countries and human rights organizations. The European Union has slapped a travel ban on Mr. Mugabe, government officials, and senior members of the ruling ZANU-PF party. But the European Union bowed to pressure from African countries to invite Mr. Mugabe to the Lisbon summit and agreed to temporarily lift the ban to enable him to attend.

While some European leaders have said they would rather have Mr. Mugabe not come, they have shown little inclination to follow Mr. Brown's lead to boycott the summit.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt says he will attend, but insists the issue of Zimbabwe's human rights abuses must be on the agenda.

"It cannot be the only item of course, but it should be a role in the meeting for human rights discussions," he said.

Europe is in a bind, says Editor Patrick Smith of Africa Confidential, a newsletter on African affairs. He tells VOA that Europe is desperate to have a summit with Africa.

"You got to set that against the background of the increasing involvement of China and India and indeed Russia in Africa," he noted. "So, the Europeans have got a lot more competition against their normal economic and diplomatic ties with Africa and they feel that, certainly Portugal and Germany feel that it would be entirely wrong to lose out in that competition simply because of what they consider to be a bilateral dispute between Britain and Zimbabwe."

Improving trade relations between Europe and Africa is a cornerstone of the summit, and many fear that Mr. Mugabe's presence will divert attention from that focus.

African leaders have been adamant that Mr. Mugabe be invited. Some say that while they do not agree with his policies, they believe that dialogue is the best way to resolve Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.

Speaking during a visit to Sweden, Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson said Mr. Mugabe has a right to be heard.

"I am sure he will express the views that are of importance to him and we will have 52 other leaders taking the floor who will express views that are of interest to them," she said. "Those interests may not be the same so we will have a diversity of issues on the table we hope much of them will be substantive and that we can really make some progress at the summit."

During a visit to Zimbabwe, Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade summed up the feelings of many African leaders in support of Robert Mugabe, saying "he is an African brother."

Mr. Wade said he hoped Mr. Mugabe and Gordon Brown would both attend the Lisbon summit, but noted that if he had to choose, he would take Mr. Mugabe's presence over Gordon Brown's.

Many Africans remain wary of western criticism, viewing it as an attempt to impose outside views and policies on their countries.

Many also view Britain's position as selective and hypocritical, since Mr. Mugabe is not the only African leader with a questionable human-rights record expected to attend the summit.

On the other hand, experts say the fact that other European leaders are willing to sit down with Mr. Mugabe shows that the European Union is putting its self-interest above human rights. They say that should serve as a warning to democratic movements in Africa to not rely too much on western governments for support.

Andebrhan Giorgis is a spokesman for the International Crisis Group research center.

"I think the democratic movements in Africa must be home grown, there must be a process in each country that is basically indigenous," he said.

The Lisbon summit is scheduled for December 8-9.

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